I was on the phone with a friend the other day, when she mentioned something that occurred “last summer.” I happened to know for a fact that that something could not have occurred “last summer,” by which, I assumed, she meant the summer of 2010, summer of Schoko-Reiswaffeln, and pelmeni, and exceedingly kind Dutch waiters. But of course, by “last summer” she meant last summer, the one that began and ended a few months ago in our very own 2011. This year’s last summer. That this year already has a “last summer” to speak of blew my mind. How did that happen? It’s November, friends! Halfway to December, even. Yet I somehow missed the part where summer slipped so far into our past that we have to glance back over our shoulders to get a good look at it.
There were signs: the darker days, the stuffed pumpkin for dinner, the return of the scarves and, not least, the September baby – so tiny that I thought she might pop at the lightest touch – now nine weeks old. And then, this week, there was cabbage. I’m not talking about the white-ish green Arrowhead cabbages that have been manning the markets now for months. I mean the purple kind, huge, heavy, and sweet. One turned up in our farm share box last week. I was thinking about what to do with it, heading in the direction of braise, when Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, Plenty, arrived at my door with a game-changing page 102. The recipe is called “Sweet winter slaw” and, after momentarily panicking that the purple cabbage in my fridge meant I’d missed the end of autumn, too, I realized that this past summer was not only a slippery one, but a slaw-less one. I’ll say it again, this time with feeling: How did that happen? Cue the compensatory slaw, a winter slaw made mid-autumn to make up for a slaw-less summer.
Ottolenghi’s slaw, the one in the book, is rather more involved than the one you see here. The “sweet” in the title is not just red cabbage-sweet, but papaya-sweet, mango-sweet and, above all, caramelized macadamias-sweet. Ottolenghi calls for a fresh red chile. And cilantro! And mint! And lemongrass in the dressing! I would like to eat that slaw. If I ever find myself in a kitchen with all said items present, I will. In the meantime, I’ll eat it the way I made it last week (three times!), with what I had on hand: cabbage and more cabbage. I threw in some peanuts and sesame seeds, too. Eli and I first ate it for dinner alongside scrambled eggs last week, and he immediately insisted that it’s more of a salad than a slaw. I thought it was because, for him, slaw means coleslaw, and coleslaw means mayo. (“The only slaw I ever knew,” he said.) But today he tells me it’s because this slaw feels like something more than slaw. It’s a greater slaw, as slaws go, a slaw that requires very little, if anything, else on the plate to make it a meal. So call it salad, or call it slaw. With a couple of rye crackers and a bit of cheese, I call it lunch.
Red Cabbage Slaw
Adapted from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi
Yotam Ottolenghi’s as-written recipes are perfectly tuned. I know because I’ve had the chance to eat several dishes from this book at the table of my friend, Molly. I was fairly certain at first that paring down this recipe to the barest of bones made me a bad person. Then, I tasted my version, and I felt better. It’s delicious this way, too.
For the dressing:
6½ Tbsp. lime juice
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. toasted (or just plain old) sesame oil
1 tsp. soy sauce
¼ tsp. chile flakes
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
For the salad:
½ a red cabbage (10 oz.), finely shredded
7 inner leaves of a Savoy cabbage (6 oz.), finely shredded (Any green cabbage will do if you don’t have a Savoy.)
½ tsp. chile flakes
A few pinches of salt
¾ c. peanuts
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1 c. loosely packed cilantro, roughly chopped (optional; I know how some of you out there feel about cilantro.)
Make the dressing: In a small saucepan, heat all of the ingredients but the oils. Reduce over high heat for 5-10 minutes, or until thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat, let cool, and whisk in the oils.
Pile the shredded cabbage in a large mixing bowl, season with the salt ad ½ teaspoon chile flakes, and toss with the dressing. Add the peanuts and sesame seeds, a little more salt, if necessary, toss again, and serve.
Serves four hungry people who will eat it as a main dish, and six not-so-hungry people who will eat it on the side.